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2021 Cadillac Escalade Gets Even Bigger and Bolder

Cadillac’s behemoth SUV picks up the design cues of the stunning Escala concept and adds an optional diesel engine.

2021 Cadillac Escalade

Roy RitchieCar and Driver
  • The Cadillac Escalade SUV is redesigned for 2021 with styling taken from the brand’s Escala concept.
  • It shares its platform with the new Chevy and GMC full-size SUVs, meaning it gains an independent rear suspension that opens up more interior space.
  • The new Escalade will go on sale in late 2020.

When Cadillac showed the gorgeous Escala concept in 2016, we thought it might mean that General Motors’ halo brand was finally going to make the Mercedes-Benz S-class fighter it needed to compete in the luxury market. Pieces of the Escala’s design have begun to filter down to the Cadillac lineup, but the true production form of that show car won’t arrive as a chauffeur-worthy sedan. Instead, it comes as the 2021 Cadillac Escalade.

Like earlier generations, the fifth-gen Escalade will share its platform with GM’s other large SUVs, the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe and the GMC Yukon. Magnetorheological dampers come standard on all but the base Escalade, and a set of height-adjustable air springs will be available. As on the rest of GM’s full-size SUV family, a new independent rear suspension replaces the old truck’s live axle and promises a more refined ride. That swap allows for a lower load floor, creating more space inside—especially for passengers in the third row, who previously had to adopt a position unnervingly similar to the Squatty Potty pose.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
Roy RitchieCar and Driver

The Escalade has grown on the outside, too. Cadillac stretched the wheelbase by 4.9 inches in the stand­ard-length model and by 4.1 inches in the Escalade ESV (i.e., the long-wheelbase trim). The SUV’s body is 7.1 inches longer than the outgoing model’s; 2.6 inches longer in the case of the extended-wheelbase edition. That extra length, combined with the packaging benefit of the new rear suspension, helps increase cargo room by 11 cubic feet compared with the previous Escalade’s sedanlike 15 cubes. ESV models gain four cubic feet for a total of 43 behind the third row.

“Magic happens when you work on the Corvette because it’s the Corvette. Our leadership kept saying the Escalade goes in that same category. In other words, it’s not a Corvette, but it is the flagship of our flagship brand, and doors should open, and you should be doing this thing like you mean it.” —Phil Kucera, interior design manager

A small-block 6.2-liter V-8 will continue to serve as the Escalade’s base engine, though the 420-hp workhorse will now make use of GM’s Dynamic Fuel Management cylinder-­deactivation system. The Escalade also will be available with a diesel engine for the first time, coming a few months after the vehicle’s launch. That 277-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six makes 460 pound-feet of torque. And all Escalades will benefit from the smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic seen elsewhere in the General’s lineup.

The Escalade may share its engineering with its more proletarian brothers, but designers worked hard to make the Escala’s influence felt here. The huge grille is available with brushed chrome bars, as it has been for years, or with one of two sportier-looking mesh designs. The headlights retain their slim vertical signature but add a narrow horizontal element in an effort to further emphasize the SUV’s prodigious width.

2021 Cadillac Escalade
Roy RitchieCar and Driver

Inside, the huge infotainment system, a near replica of the Escala’s, is the car’s centerpiece. Designers were determined to bring the Escalade’s fit and finish in line with its luxury competitors’ and started by swathing the interior in real wood trim and leather with intricate quilting and piping. Cadillac says its leather supplier had to invest in new machines to pull off some of the complex designs. There’s an available 36-speaker audio system by AKG, and even the smart tailored-­fabric interior from the Escala will make an appearance in the Escalade’s upper trim levels. In another nod to luxury, the Caddy’s plebeian column-mounted shifter is gone, replaced by a sleek-looking electronic console shifter.

The Escalade will go on sale in late 2020. Trim levels will include Luxury, Premium Luxury, Platinum Luxury, Sport, and Platinum Sport, and the diesel will only be available on the Luxury and Platinum Luxury models. Cadillac is mum on price but expect the base ask to stay roughly the same as the outgoing model’s, so about $77,000. Buyers who choose to outfit their cars with Super Cruise—Cadillac’s hands-free driving system—or any of the Escalade’s luxury interior fittings will pay a lot more.